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U3A Photo Group 1 - September 2021

by Tim Wright - 18:33 on 22 September 2021
On a rather dull wet morning eleven members of the U3A Photo Group set sail on the Hamnavoe with an ultimate destination of Lairg. Hilary had made the suggestion to go there and had kindly arranged the local hotel to accommodate us all. 
By the time we arrived in Scrabster the skies were clearing and the sun was trying to come out . Three cars set off along the North coast counter clockwise to the steady stream of cars, motor homes and motor bikes on the NC 500. One group of members peeled off and walked to Strathy Point Lighthouse while the other two cars looked for coffee in Bettyhill . They had no luck as all the coffee shops were closed as was the hotel due to lack of staff following on Brexit and Covid . They headed to Tongue where they picnicked on the Tongue Causeway with self made coffee instead . Turning off the road and going down to Altnaharra was like going back to the Far North roads of 45 years ago , little traffic and beautiful views . Plenty of photo opportunities along the way but one group were on a mission to find Hilary's Romantic Bridge .  Seven miles back up the Loch Hope road it was mission accomplished although the others in the car couldn't see much difference between that bridge and many others they had crossed . It seems  Hilary was the only one who was fully conversant with the true Romance of this bridge and throughout the 3 day trip rejected all other bridges  as being sufficiently Romantic . Why that Bridge ? We will never know but was there perhaps the initials "H M" and a Heart secreted on the stone somewhere overlooked by her companions ?
The Lairg hotel was ready for this Orcadian invasion and after a drink in the Bar, a good dinner was had with discussions of the trip down .
The next day the party split into two groups .Hilary had arranged for six of us to visit Alladale Wilderness Reserve, a 50,000 acre fenced reserve which is being taken back to its wildlife roots and eventually beyond . We followed the long back road into the mountains from Bonar Bridge to the Alladale Estate and arriving at the Lodge met up with Ronnie our guide for the day . He had worked on the Estate for 43 years as a gamekeeper and subsequently as a Ranger .  Among other things , he  had planted tens of thousands of trees on the Estate  as well as turning his hand to a bit of welding to mend a broken Swing Bridge . He was also an excellent guide .  Six of us packed into his very clean and modern Land Rover and set off to take photos . The sun was shining as we took photos of the Lodge looking splendid in the landscape of trees .Then we set off on a track for miles  down Glen Alladale  stopping every so often to take view shots or for some, to collect Rowan Berries . We looked in on the Wild Cat breeding enclosures and the cats and kittens were suitably unimpressed with our presence as only cats can be . However this made them great subjects for pictures . We returned to the Lodge and set off for the lunch place along Glen Mor , a purpose built Bothy with picture windows over the River . We admired it but ate at the large picnic table outside . Just as well we did as suddenly there was a Golden Eagle quartering the hill above us looking for his lunch too. Unfortunately he was rather too far away for photos but a splendid sight indeed . The rain was threatening so we set off further up the Glen to the remote lodge of Deanich over seven miles of very rough road  . It is used for wildlife and survival training visits by guests that include Bear Grylls . It was odd to come around the corner having seen no one,  to see people out on the moor looking at plants .Then it was back to the main lodge .On the way we spotted 20 Hinds on the ridge above the road feeding contentedly . We stopped at the Hydro phonic green houses . In one, 140 Trout are fed in four Vats with the water being pumped out  to feed the vegetables in the deep beds both in and out of the green houses . All were flourishing especially the Curley Kale . The fish are harvested for the guests in the Lodge as are the vegetables.  Finally we got back to the starting point but not before we had tremendous views of Henry  ,a 13 pointer Stag on the lawn eating like mad to prepare him for the Rut which will be starting soon. He was obviously thinking of those Hinds that we had seen on the ridge !  It was a happy party indeed that returned to the hotel in Lairg to hear of the other groups adventures .
Barbara's Group had done a series of walks .Firstly a low walk at Ferrycroft through the woods looking at Fungii. Then a short hop down to the Falls of Shin . They saw 6 Salmon leaping trying to get over the Falls but no very large  ones .The cafe was closed (Staffing issues ) but a Burger van provide a degree of alternative fare to keep them going . Then it was off to Rosehall to do the forest walk there and meet the Bear . Heavy Rain stopped play  so it was back to the Hotel to dry out and swap stories over dinner .
The next day was the meander home . The weather was improving and the sun soon came through .One group went to Ferrycroft again and went on the Archaeology trail up the hill .A couple of Cairns were visible but the Bracken had hidden all the other features .However good views up Loch Shin and finding a obliging Peacock Butterfly were the highlights of the walk . Going south for a few miles we crossed the pedestrian bridge below the rail bridge and went to look at Carbisdale Castle . It is a magnificent structure perched above the upper reaches of the Kyle of Sutherland .It used to be owned by the Youth Hostel Association but now is in private hands .However we walked up to the gates through lovely mature woodland and realised we should have been members of the YHA to have actually stayed in it's heyday . Hilary had with a party of school children. They had loved it  Then it was back to buy a picnic and drive the old and very quiet road from Bonnar Bridge to Clashmore stopping at the Migdale Woods for lunch .
Meanwhile the other cars had visited Dornoch ,Golspie and Brora for a mixture of retail therapy and food .Last stop was Dunbeath Harbour where two groups met .It is very photogenic with lots of flowers and a few boats too . The sea was bathed in sun but with an ominous degree of swell and wind out to sea . On to the ferry and that sighting was proved to be true with a lumpy crossing but we all survived intact .
Many thanks to Hilary for all her hard work arranging the hotel and the terrific day out at Alledale. It was a memorable trip indeed and with many happy contented photographers with hundreds of photos to remind them of the Lairg and the fun we had .

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